Polls apart

Published April 14, 2024
The writer is an instructor of journalism.
The writer is an instructor of journalism.

AN old, rickety house in upstate New York has served as a landmark since I began visiting family here in 2017. It is hard to miss because it has a massive Trump sign, painted in the colours of the American flag, with the years ‘2016’, ‘2020’ and now ‘2024’ next to his name. I am unaffected by its presence, but the folks I know who live here see it as a sign of all that is wrong with politics.

They are distressed by an April 3 poll by the Wall Street Journal placing Trump in the lead in six of the seven most competitive states. These states tend to determine the election outcome. The poll reported on “voter dissatisfaction” with the economy and “deep doubts” about President Joe Biden’s capabilities.

I have since been listening to fears about Trump’s return and how folks will migrate to Canada. Funnily enough, I first heard that in 2004, when George W. Bush was re-elected, the data shows around 10,000 Americans became permanent residents in Canada following Bush’s re-election, and dipped after Barack Obama was elected in 2008. The data for Trump showed a 350 per cent increase in search for “how to move to Canada” when he won, and around 9,000 made good on their promise and migrated in 2017.

On the subject of data, there is plenty to show the US economy has done well under Biden. Unemployment and inflation are low and economic growth “is growing faster than expected”, reported Politico in January. Yet Biden’s age gets a lot of media time, like Hillary Clinton’s emails got in 2016. I am not here to suggest Biden being 81 is a non-issue, but it does seem to distract from the economic strides made by his administration, the very thing respondents expressed dissatisfaction about. Where are they getting their information then, or should the media be reporting on the economy (boring) and not Biden’s latest gaffe (fun and gets clicks which gets advertisers).

It looks like the media has not learned from its mistakes.

Biden has had missteps and falls, but beyond confusing people or places, he has not threatened to derail democracy like the other guy; the one who is not exactly a spring chicken at 77. The one who faces a slew of criminal charges, attempted an insurrection, and has vowed to deport just about everybody. Why are more people willing to believe he is a better candidate to manage the economy than the guy who is actually doing it?

I have often wondered why people’s memories are short, but I am now sure the media helps create this amnesia. It does so partly because the business model favors clicks over context, assumes audiences want this and not that, and believes it must remain objective.

Since I began reading academic material on journalism, I have learned how problematic objectivity can be. It often pits the oppressed with the oppressor for the sake of balance over informed — that is, factual — storytelling. Imagine families of disappeared sharing the same media space with the powerful men often responsible for doing the disappearing. How is that fair?

On the first day of class, I always tell students it is impossible not to have personal likes, dislikes, biases. Journalists are human. Journalism is rooted in values. I will never support a policy that is racist, sexist, anti-women, anti-children, anti-poor, anti-science. I oppose whatever is masquerading as democracy these days. I dislike climate change deniers too. Does my transparency mean I cannot practise journalism? On the contrary, I tell students that knowing our biases allows us to practice journalism better, because we work harder to ensure we have been fair.

The elections in the US are six months away but the focus is already on polls. It looks like the media has not learned from its mistakes. We saw this in Pakistan too, when many in the media wrote the PTI off, didn’t take voter sentiment into account, and had to eat humble pie on election day. When you cover elections like you would a horse race — who’s leading, who’s behind — you are not helping audiences make informed decisions. Especially if you are reporting a candidate’s falsehoods without challenging them because you’re worried you will be seen as partisan or you’re scared you’ll lose their subscriptions. That’s lazy journalism. And it’s denying the truth about what is at stake.

I don’t have any stakes in the US elections. It will not matter whether Biden or Trump throws drones or sanctions at us. But I think we can learn a lot from how their media covers this election, even if it is a ‘what not to do’. I hope that includes calling out leaders that threaten Pakistan’s stability, which includes the economy, which can be gauged by numbers. People lie. Math doesn’t.

The writer is an instructor of journalism.

X: @LedeingLady

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2024

Editorial

Ominous demands
Updated 18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

The federal government needs to boost its revenues to reduce future borrowing and pay back its existing debt.
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...
Dangerous law
Updated 17 May, 2024

Dangerous law

It must remember that the same law can be weaponised against it one day, just as Peca was when the PTI took power.
Uncalled for pressure
17 May, 2024

Uncalled for pressure

THE recent press conferences by Senators Faisal Vawda and Talal Chaudhry, where they demanded evidence from judges...
KP tussle
17 May, 2024

KP tussle

THE growing war of words between KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur and Governor Faisal Karim Kundi is affecting...